Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia needs a little tutorial in the separation of Church and State.
Northam, as you’ve probably heard, has turned theologian and is telling Virginians how to worship during the Christmas season that is upon us. Here are Parson Ralph’s God tips:
“But this year we need to think about what is truly the most important thing. Is it the worship or the building. For me, God is wherever you are. You don’t have to sit in the church pew for God to hear your prayers,” Northam said. “Worship with a mask on is still worship. Worship outside or worship online is still worship.”
The Democratic governor called on faith leaders to “lead the way and set an example.”
Elected officials are not supposed to give this kind of advice about religious services. That is simply not how the U.S. system of separation of Church and State was designed.
Whatever your opinion on COVID 19 restrictions for places of worship, you should be alarmed that a governor is pontificating on what does or does not pertain to your religious obligations. The Governor has infringed on a sphere from which the Constitution bars him. Be alarmed by this, please.
It seems that the Governor holds religious institutions responsible for the spread of the virus. He chided congregations as virus spreaders:
The governor also blamed the spread of the virus in Virginia on congregations that he said acted carelessly in observing health precautions, saying that while most churches across the state have “done the right thing,” some have failed to social distance and wear masks.
“Quite frankly, we know that a lot of the spread is coming from this because these individuals that are in a place of worship and contract the virus then go out to their place of work or to the grocery store or the convenience store or wherever and that’s how this is spread,” the governor said.
I demand evidence of this claim, even though this discussion of religious groups by Governor Northam is making me queasy.
Northam of course isn’t the only political leader who is overstepping when it comes to religious liberty. Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York imposed “suffocating restrictions” on religious institutions.
In response to suits by a Catholic diocese and Jewish congregation in the state, the Supreme Court issued an injunction that freed two religious organizations from Cuomo’s restrictions on worship. The Court noted the disparity between Cuomo’s restrictions for businesses the governor deemed “essential” and religious organizations.
California’s restrictions on churches appear so targeted that one church has “rebranded” itself as a “family-friendly strip club” in order to stay open. (The strip tease was the minister removing his tie before preaching.) The U.S. Supreme Court issued an unsigned order for California to re-evaluate its restrictions on attendance at church services. This was after the decision that granted the New York injunction and in lieu of a separate opinion.
Even Washington, DC’s Catholic Archdiocese, led by a Cardinal who is unabashedly friendlier to President-Elect Joe Biden than to President Trump, has sued Mayor Muriel Bowser over her COVID restrictions.
Around Thanksgiving Mayor Bowser stipulated that not more than 50 people can be present at a church service. This seems a little off as half the churches in DC can hold 500 or more worshipers.
The officials imposing strict regulations on places of worship are the uniformly on the political left. Indeed, as Rachel del Guidice of the Daily Signal, observes,
It’s ironic that the left, which bills itself as on the side of tolerance and acceptance, is now at a place where it is unabashedly telling Christians not to go to church, with politicians like Northam essentially having an executive fiat to say that people of faith “don’t have to sit in the church pew for God to hear your prayers.”
We’ve now come to a time in our nation’s history where we are told to be accepting of any race or sexual orientation people believe themselves to be, to be supportive and understanding and inclusive, but now it’s not OK to be accepting of the faithful who want to safely gather as a body and worship God?
. . .
It’s abundantly obvious that in the name of “staying safe,” there’s an underlying agenda that is decidedly anti-religion. What else are we to make of policies that preserve the rights and ability to operate for places like strip clubs, but churchgoers are told they can pray anywhere, and therefore don’t have to go to a church?
Gov. Northam, people of faith see through this. Take every opportunity to share how you worship, but please, don’t impose your perspective on how people should worship on the rest of the country.
Anybody in the U.S. has every right to be anti-religious. If that’s what you’re into, go for it.
But elected officials should review the relevant legal verbiage (starting with the Constitution) that prohibits them from singling out religious groups for draconian regulations.